SENIORS, SIGNING OFF: Country Day should stay focused on academics

Every year, graduating seniors on The Octagon write a final piece to say goodbye to Country Day. This is one of nine stories by the class of ’22.

Editor’s Note: This opinion piece has been edited for clarity since its publishing in print on May 24, 2022.

I’ve spent the past 13 years of my life at Country Day. That’s 2,072 days, or 12,098 hours — or a ton of minutes.

There’s been a lot to love about this school, and a slew of fond memories. From writing projects in first grade that sparked my interest in becoming an author, to Sutter’s Fort in fourth grade, the Civil War film in fifth grade, Renaissance Faire in seventh grade, a gold-rating at Forum festival in eighth grade, an Ancil Hoffman victory in10th grade and the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Soccer Championship during my senior year, Country Day has permanently and positively impacted me.

Despite being a small school, Country Day provided the well-rounded education any parent would dream of for their child — I’ve had the chance to excel academically, athletically, musically and artistically.

Our student body is phenomenal. My class is full of talented and kind students.

And the teachers at this school have generally been exceptional. There’s my second and fifth grade teacher Ms. Gillette, sixth grade math teacher Mr. Bolman, eighth grade earth science teacher Mr. Grunst and ninth grade physics teacher Mr. Mangold just to name a few, and the full list of memorable teachers would be far too long to include.

In my 13 years at this school, I’ve seen a lot of changes. Some have been wonderful — a renovated middle school science building or new classes in the high school based on student interest like creative writing and Advanced Topics Calculus, for example.

However, it’s also been impossible to ignore some of the more disappointing trends that emerged in recent years.

Country Day’s main observable goals while I’ve been in high school have been increasing enrollment and ensuring diversity and equity to create a nurturing environment for the most
sensitive students.

Country Day is first and foremost an educational institution. Its job is to educate its students at the highest level. Our administration’s focus should be on academics, especially given the fact a lack of diversity and inequity aren’t substantial issues in our community (21% of school income goes to tuition aid, according to the 2021 Annual Report, the scholars program fully funds multiple low-income students tuition).

When I first came to this school, Country Day was known for its rigor. Students were leaps and bounds ahead in math, reading, writing — you name it — because the curriculum pushed them to maximize their potential. Our students were the best, taught by the best.

In recent years, a focus on ensuring an equitable, low stress environment has chipped away at this rigorous curriculum. Gone are the timed math quizzes in some lower school classes which ensured students built a seamless foundation that would set them up for success.

Our administration is more focused on defining the word “diversity” than addressing the fact multiple classes, particularly in the middle school, are leaving students woefully unprepared for future challenges.

A cause for this?

Questionable hires in recent years. Look no further than the musical chairs of certain positions in the middle school. Compound this with the fact recent teacher in-services have been diversity-based rather than skills-based, and you have a handful of teachers who are unprepared for the standards of education Country Day markets as worth $28,000 per year.

Beyond this, the teachers we do have are stretched thin because the school is overly-focused on expansion. English teacher Jason Hinojosa no longer teaches all seniors, and he likely won’t teach all freshmen this fall due to a conflict between courses needed and the number of students taking said courses.

To make matters worse, the school doesn’t seem to care enough about many of our beloved long-time teachers. When Country Day greats leave after repeatedly being passed over for outside hires in new internal position openings, or feel the need to leave after more than a decade because the school is “no longer a good fit as an academic workplace,” that should be an alarm bell to those in charge.

What made Country Day special when I first enrolled was the small school vibe. That’s what distinguished us. We had close-knit classes and knew our teachers almost as well as our friends. This still rings somewhat true, but when I look around at the high school classes below me, which are 20-50% bigger than my own, I can’t help but notice the “Country Day vibe” isn’t what it used to be.

As I look at younger classes, whether in the high school or middle school, it’s painfully obvious students’ basic math and writing skills have deteriorated. And based on numerous private conversations with friends, family and faculty, I’m not alone in this observation. Since when did Country Day freshmen struggle with basic algebra?

While the school’s efforts of inclusivity are to be commended — it is important to have a caring learning environment — it’s worth noting that as long as I’ve been here, students of all backgrounds, whether based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality or socioeconomic status have been welcomed. Despite these differences, I’ve seen mostly kindness between students. The only issues in behavior along this front have been relegated to larger classes where expansion in enrollment suggests the school cares more about the quantity of students than the quality.

I looked through the February 2022 equity report put together by someone the school hired to find issues in the Country Day community around issues like diversity and inclusivity. The money spent was a waste — most of what was brought up in the report was common sense or a non-issue, or issues not relevant to Country Day. Country Day does not need to hire a diversity specialist, we don’t need to develop a more inclusive school calendar and we don’t need to clarify what it means to hire based on diversity — the sole criteria for hiring teachers should be competence, anyway.

There’s already enough discussion around these topics in class curriculum, so if the school really does feel the need to improve the inclusivity of the community, they’re better off featuring more events like the Queer Voices Panel, which are genuinely important for building empathy.

Simply put, in an attempt to hurriedly grow and simultaneously cultivate a sensitive learning environment, this school’s standards are slipping.

I really have loved my 13 years here — I’ve spent weeks reminiscing on the good times. But even though it’s undeniable we’re one of the top schools in the area, I’ve come to a realization as my time here closes: Country Day simply isn’t the academic juggernaut it was when I arrived.

— By Ethan Monasa

Originally published in the May 24 issue of The Octagon

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